Home > Abusive relationships, divorce, Parental Alienation, Psychology, relationships > Why Parental Alienation is the Act of an Emotionally Abusive Bully

Why Parental Alienation is the Act of an Emotionally Abusive Bully


Justice is Blind-Family Court FolliesAre you and your ex going through a difficult divorce or break up? Do you worry that she or he is turning your child(ren) against you? Are you shocked and confused by how your once warm and affectionate relationship with your kid(s) has become distant and hostile?

Parental alienation is no joke. It’s a form of child abuse. The custodial parent is usually the mother and it’s typically the custodial parent who engages in parental alienation. However, there are men who also engage in parental alienation.

Original research found women to be the perpetrators of this abusive behavior in 90% of reported cases. Recent research indicates both genders equally engage in parental alienation. It’s difficult to know the exact figures because of under-reporting, false accusations and the positive bias toward mothers that’s rampant in most family courts.

Profile of Parental Alienation

Individuals who engage in parental alienation are like the mean kids in high school who demand that their friends be angry with whomever they’re angry with and hate whomever they hate. In children, this phenomenon is called relational aggression. Now she or he is a parent. They’re mad because your relationship ended—even if they’re the one who initiated the break-up.

Your ex requires, implicitly or explicitly, that your child(ren) feel and act the same way she or he does. The parent who engages in alienation tactics enlists your children to take on his or her battle against you. This is not the act of a responsible, mature adult, much less a responsible, loving parent. This is a bullying behavior called mobbing.

Bullying, Mobbing and Parental Alienation

Mobbing is usually written about in the context of workplace bullying, but that’s a limited use of the concept. It can occur in any kind of system, including a family system. Mobbing is the impassioned psychological harassment of one individual by a group. The attack is usually instigated and led by one or two people who are typically in a position of authority or a peer leader. The International Herald Tribune describes it as “group victimization of a single target” with the goal of demeaning, discrediting, alienating, excluding, humiliating and isolating the targeted individual.

Mobbing ringleaders are bullies who try to dominate and control others in most situations and relationships. Namie and Namie (2000) describe them as, “inadequate, defective and poorly developed people.” They’re generally angry, unpredictable, critical, jealous and manipulative (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie, 2000). The emotionally abusive bully who engages in mobbing (or parental alienation) revels in the excitement produced by their animosity. It produces a pleasurable buzz or rush in them. Westhues (2002) refers to this as “the euphoria of collective attack.” Sound familiar?

Parental Alienation and Personality Disorders

People that have no compunction about using their kids to hurt their exes seem to fit the profile of the emotionally abusive Cluster B personality disorders (Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder). Many of these individuals play the professional victim as they emotionally bully anyone who confronts, challenges or criticizes them. They don’t recognize appropriate boundaries, won’t accept personal responsibility for their actions—in fact, they blame you for the horrible things they do and always have an excuse to justify their indefensible behaviors.

If your ex is actively or passively alienating your child(ren)’s normal affection toward you, he or she was probably emotionally abusive while you were together. Parental alienation is her or his way of continuing to abuse and hurt you via remote access. Generally, most bullies don’t see themselves as such. If you confront your ex about this behavior, they’ll deny it and blame you for your deteriorating relationship with your child(ren), even as you make every effort to be a present and involved parent.

The only way to stop a bully is with the threat of a greater authority. Appealing to their “better nature” is futile. Emotionally abusive bullies don’t have a better nature. Attorneys and the courts will probably need to be involved as well as an UNBIASED children’s therapist and a lot of documentation. If you believe you’re the target of parental alienation, I encourage you to educate yourself about it and to know, protect and fight for your rights.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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Justice is blind by Professional Recreationalist on flickr.

  1. Amy
    June 3, 2017 at 4:11 am

    I am recently married. One of the biggest attractions was how loving he was with his children. About 6 months into the relationship I witnessed some odd behavior from his teenage daughter. She would talk about her mother and how much she admired her for getting through all the difficult times she’s had. And would talks about her dad in not such a good light. One evening she was talking to my daughter about her dad saying he can’t be trusted, he will hurt your mom, he will cheat on her like he did my mom and on and on it went. My daughter didn’t want to tell me what she said. One reason she was worried for me and the other she thought it was such strange behavior. It was very strange because my husbands ex cheated on him not once but twice that he knows of and he stayed in the marriage for 6 years until she asked for divorce. It became pretty clear to me what was going on. Sadly I realized what the mother was doing. May I say here there is also a teenage son that is completely happy and so it is obvious the mother only talks to the daughter about my husband. The daughter is depressed and the son is happy and outgoing. The daughter won’t come to our home anymore. We made a beautiful bedroom for her. Painted new bed and bedding and decorated. All that was great with her and then when we got married it was like she couldn’t stand to see our love for each other. She actually told her dad that her mom told her he doesn’t know how to love! Crazy since he is the most loving man I have ever known and he stayed in a cheating marriage for the love of his family. I feel terrible for him. We realize there is nothing we can do.

    • Maria
      June 6, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      My husbands ex-wife did the same thing. She cheated and then made him out to be the bad guy. We’ve been together for almost nine years now and he is the sweetest, gentlest person I’ve ever met. His ex turned their daughter against him and she refuses to speak to him, it’s been four years and my husband has tried everything to contact his daughter. She’s 26 now but that goes to show that adults are vulnerable to that kind of manipulation not just kids. At least his son sees through his mothers lies and refuses to believe her blatant false stories. It’s not an easy way to live, there is nothing you can do about someone’s behavior. I feel sorry for his daughter, she’s missing out. The thing of it is my husband and his ex haven’t had any kind of relationship for more than 17 years but yet his ex still feels the need to try and poison his life. There are some really sick people out there.

  2. Luke
    May 4, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    I need help with this. I’ve been suffering and going around in circles for the last year, my daughters first birthday is tomorrow and I very rarely get to see her, and when I do the mother uses it as an opertunity to effectively bully me. I could really do with some advice the situation is destroying me

  3. mjsqt
    February 26, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Paul, Sounds like what happened to me. Did it involve a phony restraining order? For me the attempts at alienation began while we were still living together, with my wife essentially telling the children I was an abusive nut job that they didn’t need to listen to. She also called the police on me over and over again for trying to confront outrageous behavior in my children. Of course the kids are a mess with this view of their father(school refusal, violent outbursts, nearly flunking out of college). My wife also has no financial plan for the impending divorce as we have no net assets. She’s threw our family into all this turmoil and hasn’t even filed for the divorce. Maybe she figured out she can’t afford it. I don’t really know what’s in her head because of the restraining order, but it sure isn’t rational.I’m terrified of the years ahead.

  4. September 10, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    You do know that men do this, too, right? It’s not solely something women do. Fathers do it, non-custodial parents do it, even non-parents do it (grandparents, aunts and uncles, other relatives). You can make this seem like this is a women against men problem, but it is not. Men do this too and it is JUST as damaging and JUST as horrific for the child as when it is done by the mother.

    • shrink4men
      September 11, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      YES, EVERYONE IS AWARE THAT MEN CAN BE ABUSIVE AND COMMIT PARENTAL ALIENATION, TOO. Good grief.

  5. Skywalker
    August 30, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    This article applies to me, but with some notable exceptions. I am the female parent, and the primary caregiver (I’m still married). My step-daughter, however, went out of her way when she was alone with my child to try to turn the child against me. I know this because of things I read on her social media, as well as the fact that my child came and told me after about a year of it.

    Putting it in the context of bullying by a defective, manipulative person makes a lot more sense. It’s just that when conducting this search on the internet, I have never run across an article that deals with anyone but a divorced “ex” participating in this type of thing–no articles seem to cover alienation by uncles, grandparents, half siblings, etc. I would like to learn more about it and know how to protect myself and my child, whose relationship I value above all others.

    • shrink4men
      August 30, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      Yes, alienation can be done by extended family. It’s very common. Has your husband spoken to his daughter about her unacceptable behavior? That’s the first step. If the behavior won’t stop, then I would take steps to ensure SD doesn’t spend unsupervised time with your child.

  6. annette
    June 8, 2016 at 12:55 am

    My ex-husband has used this behavior successfully within the court system. I do not understand why family courts do not understand this behavior for what it is–nor do they seem to understand the damage that is done to children as a result of it. The people who behave in this way are extremely manipulative. They are often non-compliant with the very paperwork they initiated–and they are rarely, if ever, made to become compliant with it. These types have no respect for authority. By allowing these behaviors to go unchecked, these people become even bigger bullies and extend their control even further. My youngest daughter is now described by her father’s attorney as “passive.” Don’t the courts recognize that passive behavior is a symptom of having been overly controlled? I wish, with all my heart, that family lawyers had some psychology background or even that our courts required a screening for these personality types so our children and families no longer have to be ruined by them.

  7. A dad in despair
    March 18, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    A dads perspective.

    I am a father and a simple guy, but I am human too, and I have a story to tell anyone who is interested and has the time.

    While I may not have actively given birth to my son personally, I was a part of his creation and I was there to assist with his birth. This was entrusted to me by the almighty creator himself. There must have been a reason for choosing me to be my son’s father. I guess I was blessed and this is what I am ultimately trying to get to grips with. It could have been any other guy, but it was not, it was me that was chosen.

    I admit that am not the perfect guy (my ex has called me worse names several times already). I don’t earn a hell of a salary (which I guess I am supposed to according to my ex). I now work for myself after 11 years of corporate slavery and have my own tech company, assisted by my new wonderful wife. I am quite introverted to the point where I feel I may be an Aspergers candidate or be on the Autistic spectrum (my second son has been diagnosed as being on the spectrum). I have never been diagnosed professionally but I have studied the symptoms as I am a concerned parent with an autistic child, but I clearly show the same symptoms. I am considered an expert in my field of work, and I also have become somewhat of an expert in many other fields I have branched out into. I was assessed just before leaving high-school and told that I cannot and should not deal with people in any line of work. I find that I work comfortably with scientific or mechanical things that certainly are not human.

    But enough about myself, here is the sad story. The reason I am putting this up here is because I have never expressed myself to anyone and I would finally like to get this off my chest.

    I divorced my first wife after a total of 11 years of partnership (4 of those latter being married).

    It was a very rocky marriage, many guys hitting on my wife for the first few years. Never enough money available for the good life. She was always broke and asking me to help her.
    I worked many hours including weekends to earn extra money to afford the lifestyle I was expected to produce.

    I came across some incriminating documentation while packing up to move to a smaller place. I came home one evening and found that she had packed her bags and those of our son (he was 3 years old at that stage) and she pre-organised something with her father to fetch her. This argument turned ugly quickly as there was no provocation for it from my side. It seemed planned to me now. She just suddenly left our home that evening and used a really silly excuse to go. I was late getting back from a job and she accused me of being at a bar.

    The docs I discovered indicated to me that she had tried to secure monetary loans from the banks (using my forged signature as surety for the loans) to assist her mother. Her mother was constantly in debt, owing many people money and she was planning to leave her husband at that stage, so she approached me for money to help her do this. I told her I was not able to help her as I was trying to provide for my new family in renovating our (my signature on the papers again) newly bought home. When I saw these forged loan application documents (signature forged) while cleaning up, I saw red and went straight to a divorce lawyer. My wife was at that stage hiding at her parents home with my son for 2 months already.

    A month or two before all of this, I told her mother I wasn’t able to help her finacially, I was involved in a car hi-jacking. It nearly cost me my life, as the hijackers tried to use my weapon to shoot me. My wife (ex) would have been able to claim millions on my successful death as travel to work was considered being on the job and I was covered by an insurance policy my employer had taken out for all of the employees in this situation.

    I then recalled a discussion I just happened to overhear (but never really sank in quite then) that my wife (now ex) had with her mom a few weeks prior to all of this, discussing how much money (millions again) her aunt would have been able to claim if her uncle (who just happened to work for the same company as I did) was killed on the job when he was hi-jacked a few months prior. I guess the grand master was looking out for both her uncle as well as myself as we were both unharmed and remained alive through our traumatic ordeals.

    I am sure you could probably draw your own conclusions from this episode above, as it is a lot to consume and put into perspective given the sequence of events the way I have put them out here. Try to paint a picture in your mind if you can.

    One could ask, where the hell are you going with this dude? This is way far off the topic!

    Right, let’s see now.

    I go and seek for divorce order with my lawyer (fearing my ex and her mom were trying to organise the hi-jacking to have me toasted so she could claim the cashola, comprende?). Afterall, I stood “fake” surety for loans for her mom right? While hiding out at the new home her parents suddenly bought for her, she is presented with the divorce papers. My ex then runs to a psychologist to get a report that I am mentally unstable and abusive. She gets a restraining order against me.

    I have to see my son under supervision of a psychologist (who could see no reason for the initial restraining order). I then get pushed to another psychologist by the courts (this time the guy tells me just to take her home and just give her one in the brooks….very professional this guy eh?). He recommends supervised access.

    Anyhow, the divorce goes through. For a few years (at least seven times) I get dragged into court on false charges of failing to pay maintenance. The police came to my house one day to arrest me while I was out working. I must add that I actually paid her more than I should have (almost double the amount the court decided) as I was concerned for my son’s well being and she had a modest paying job at that stage.

    I met a wonderful woman and got re-married just over 10 years ago. I moved away from my hometown to a city about 70km away. My second son came along and he is truly a blessing from the master. He is simple in his ways and his needs are very basic. He only needs love and that is what makes him happy. He is very gifted and intelligent. What a wonderful child to be blessed with! I must thank the master for this.

    My eldest son hurt my youngest one day when he was here for a weekend stay and I crapped him out for it, asking him what the hell his problem was.

    I let things go for a long time to see how they developed, but I was really uneasy with the weekend visits as my eldest was constantly in touch with me ex via phone or SMS during his stay overs.

    My eldest is now 19 going on 20 and in university in the same city where I live (10 minutes away by car). I initially offered him a place to stay, food, protection, assistance and a chance to catch up on the missing years of our lives. This just wasn’t good enough according to my ex. She has job-hopped her way up the ladder so far up that I can’t even remember how many rungs she has gone up and how many jobs she has bs’d herself into.

    Instead she put him in a fancy 5 grand a month varsity appartment and is expecting me to pay half of this cost to keep us apart, as she won’t tolerate him staying here where I live. Over and above that, she intially wanted almost 2 grands worth of petrol money a month and 1/2 the monthly payment of a brand new turbocharged car that she bought him so he could drive home to visit her on weekends. I offered him my humble vehicle for this, but it just wasn’t good enough.

    I have had very little contact with my eldest son in this last year, although I have tried on several occasions. He doesn’t answer my emails or my whatsapp messages. But he has a very active social life with his friends according to the facebook social networking app. He goes to the pub with his buddies and takes pictures and posts them online. He goes for advanced drivers courses held by BMW and posts those pictures online too. He goes cycling and goes swimming in the big swimming races too.

    His excuse is that he is so busy working and writing tests that he can’t even afford 10 minutes to drop by and say hello even though I live 10 minutes away fom his varsity residence. He just about drives past my place to go home to his mom on the weekends.

    I am about to tell him to bugger off as he is asking me for more maintenance money.
    I have asked him to drop by several times so I can show him an opportunity I have been working hard on on to assist both him and myself financially. It is in his line of study and he could benefit from it.

    Today he ignored my email and whatsapp again, so I am driven to the Internet to seek whether this is a common phenomenon and a result of failed marriages and what can be done about it. I came across this website and I just couldn’t resist reading and giving my comment. Hopefully this can assist or give guidance to parents who actually care and show that there is another side to the story you are not thinking about.

    I hope that fathers wisen up to the fact that they have rights too and don’t let these demented women try pull the wool over our heads. I just wish the courts could accurately analyse the situations and decide what is best for the children instead of just siding with the side that makes the courts and the lawyers the most money through stupid appearances before a maintenance judge.

    You might be thinking that this is simply one side of a story, and you will be correct. But this is the only side of the story that I have lived through. My ex screams and curses me over the phone so I cannot hear her side of the story properly. I have asked her to calm down and speak to me like a human being.

    Comments are welcomed.

    A dad in despair.

  8. Paul Jessop
    March 14, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    This is happening with me. I’ve been sole provider for 24 of 25 year marriage. I got tricked and bullied out of my house. Now my 5 kids will not even comunicate via text or anything. Im in the divorce process. I am considering giving up all custoday as it only invloves 2 kids now. A bad idae? Any suggestions? Im sick of the bullying and isolation.
    Paul

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